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IV

A name commonly mentioned as that of his possible successor was Dr. Edward Benes, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, with whom the members of the Conference were brought into fairly close contact. He was


  ― 330 ―
born in Bohemia, and in pre-war days Benes, like Masaryk, was opposed to Austrian control. When war was declared he escaped into Switzerland, and from there he proceeded to Paris, where he worked in collaboration with Masaryk and the late General Stefanik for the victory of the Entente and the establishment of an independent Czecho-Slovak state. He was secretary of the central revolutionary group known as the Czecho-Slovak National Council, of which Masaryk was president. The two became close friends, and Benes, in his war memories, describes how they and those associated with them carried on a surreptitious campaign of organisation and incitement by means of a secret society with underground correspondence, cipher words and fictitious names. Microscopic messages were carried in hollow teeth and the stems of pipes; in balls of yarn, knotted in dots and dashes; and by innocent-looking but actually deep-meaning advertisements in newspapers. Benes, like Masaryk, was a teacher. Benes was a professor at the Prague University, and when we met him in 1931 he was still a comparatively young man, being but forty-seven. He is low-sized, rapid in thought, and possessed of a keen sense of humour. His wife is a charming, handsome lady, who, we were told, spent most of the war years in prison. He was Minister for Foreign Affairs for many years after the formation of the republic, and was for a time Premier.

We also heard much whilst in Czecho-Slovakia about Bata, the shoemaker, who was described as having stitched mass production on to the uppers of feudalism. Since then he has been killed in an aeroplane accident, but no reference to Czecho-Slovakia,


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however short, should omit mention of him. He was called the “Wizard of the shoe industry,” the “Henry Ford of Europe,” and the “most glamorous figure in all post-war Europe.” This wonderful organiser and truly great man created a curious feudal community with an amazingly modern setting for his twelve thousand factory workers in the town, Zlin, where he was born and where his father and father's fathers for generations made shoes by hand. He was born in poverty of a long line of shoemakers. He made thousands of pairs of shoes with his own hands. One day, when he was sixteen years old, he persuaded his father to let him go to Prague, where he had never been, and take shoes with him to sell and get orders for others. He walked along the railway, sold all the shoes he had and got orders for others. Such was the beginning of the huge business he later controlled. He cut down the price of boots all over Europe, and in doing so succeeded in getting millions of people to wear a better class of boots than the home-made coverings formerly used. The conveyor system is used generally in his factory—that is, an endless horizontal belt or platform, moving ceaselessly and carrying a series of baskets containing a dozen pairs of shoes on which each worker in turn must perform his operation. When he was compelled to reduce wages he turned his great resources of credit to reduce the cost of living in Zlin by establishing a big department store adjoining the factory, where his employees can purchase anything they want from salt fish to perambulators. On upper floors are lunch rooms, cafeteria, kitchens and a movie talkie theatre, whilst outside, during lunch hour, a band is kept playing.




  ― 332 ―

Bata's competitors in the shoe industry viewed him as a menace, but the fact remains that he enabled millions in Central Europe to be better shod than ever they were before.

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